Why the 10 Principles of the Direct Response Mindset Still Matter
The more you embrace a direct response mindset in both offline and online marketing channels, the greater your response, ROI, sales, and profits will be. In multiple tests, promotions primarily focused on direct response out-pulled promotions for the same product that featured branding messages.
That’s why having been a direct response copywriter for four decades, the direct response mindset is ingrained in me.
A simple definition of the direct response mindset means if you are a direct marketer, you religiously follow the 10 fundamental principles of direct marketing in everything you do; because your only concern is response — nothing else.
1. Write in a Direct Response Style
Direct response copy is identified by several factors. For instance, it’s usually significantly longer than branding copy. It relies on proven principles of persuasion, rather than “creativity.” Instead of emphasizing pretty design and clever copy, it depends on salient sales arguments, backed by extensive proof and facts. It is paradoxically both content-rich and hard-sell.
One of the reasons so many direct response promotions use long copy is that the writer has provided a lot of facts, figures, graphs, examples, and testimonials to clearly illustrate a point. To make a direct sale, you must provide an abundance of proof for your claims in your copy. Unlike brand advertising, which often drives prospects to a store or salesperson who can answer questions, direct marketing has to typically do all or much of the selling job, including overcoming objections.
2. Put Response First
The primary objective is not to enhance image, build a brand, increase awareness, or entertain. It is to get more inquiries, leads, orders, and sales.
My teacher, the late direct mail writer Milt Pierce, was once asked by a potential client whether Pierce could write copy that supported the marketer’s brand message. To the prospect’s surprise, Pierce answers: “No. And I am not the guy for this job, because I only know how to sell.” I find that is the case with most old-school direct marketers: We only know how to sell.
3. Don’t Allow Branding Guidelines to Interfere With Performance
In large corporations, a primary focus is in maintaining branding guidelines, both in copy and graphic
design, with standards that must not be violated.
This may work just fine for brand marketers. But in direct response, using boilerplate copy or graphics from branding manuals that don’t fit the promotion can actually depress response.
For instance, one software marketer said we had to put a picture of a sailboat on the outer envelope, because it was part of its branding and used in its print ads and collateral. I told the marketer that doing so clearly identified the mailer as marketing material and would likely kill response. I didn’t see the finished mailer and wasn’t told the results, so I don’t know what the marketer decided to do.
4. Ensure the Offer Is Prominent and Emphasized
The offer is not an afterthought. It is carefully thought-out and worded, prominent in the promotion, and easy to find.
Direct response copywriters strive to work both free offers and guarantees into every promotion. Without these components, direct response rates are usually lower.
5. Include Prominent and Multiple CTAs
Make your call to action, which is where the consumer can accept the offer, prominent so it catches the eye and is easy to find. Have the CTA appear in two to three places in the promotion; most importantly, one in the beginning and another at the end.
6. Focus on What Works, Not Creativity or Originality
We direct marketers are not looking to create something so original that it has never been tried before. Our approach is to study results, discover what has worked best for the product, and then improve on it to get even more leads and sales.
David Ogilvy once said “creativity” was the most dangerous word in the lexicon of advertising.
Dan Kennedy says, “I am generally opposed to pioneering. My oft-used ‘chestnut’ about pioneering is: Pioneers return home full of arrows. I am greatly in favor of ‘creative borrowing’ — the transfer of the proven from one place to an entirely different place, where it is as revolutionary as it may have been common in the place where I found it.”
7. Target Direct Response Buyers
Direct response campaigns work best when targeting direct response buyers — or people who have demonstrated that they will buy a product online or from a print ad, mailer, or catalog.
8. Have a Back-End
The money in direct response is usually made on the back-end — through sales of additional products to customers who have bought a first product. Without a back-end in place, you are leaving money on the table.
9. Be a Tightwad
Direct marketers, unlike their Madison Avenue counterparts, are careful with a dollar and don’t overspend. Reason: If a campaign is too costly, it becomes increasingly difficult to make money with it.
10. Test Everything
Brand advertisers roll out huge campaigns without meaningful, real-world testing, relying instead on less effective methods — such as surveys and focus groups. Therefore, they risk failing big and losing a lot
Direct marketers start by testing small, but with live promotions where consumers vote with their credit cards, not their opinions. This gives a truer indicator of whether the offer will work. And, if it doesn’t, your losses are minimal, because your test was modest and inexpensive.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.